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Impact of Prenatal and Early-life Pollution Exposure on Development of Asthma in Children

Impact of Prenatal and Early-life Pollution Exposure on Development of Asthma in Children

Research suggests an association of early-life pollution exposure and the development of asthma in childhood. Perinatal exposure to a variety of pollutants such as nitric oxide, ozone, and particulate matter has been reported to increase the likelihood of developing allergic disease and asthma.

A recent cohort study by Zhang et al shows that prenatal and early-life exposure to particulate matter less than 10 μm in diameter was associated with increased risk of development of asthma in Chinese children aged 3 to 5 years. Risk was even more pronounced when particulate matter was less than 1 μm in diameter. Further, they also show that postnatal and early-life exposure to particulate matter increased the risk of asthma development. These findings were consistent with another study performed by Lavigne et al looking at the effects of particulate matter and pollution on Canadian children.

Most sources of particulate matter originate from automobiles. Some types of particulate matter or ultrafine particles can result in systemic exposure and migrate to several organs, not just the lungs or nasopharynx. Pollutant exposure has also been linked to epigenetic changes related to DNA methylation. A 2019 meta-analysis examined 9 studies and found that there are 2 genetic mutations linked to particulate matter exposure—both mutations are associated with lung growth and development of asthma.

Decreased exposure to pollutants and particulate matter in childhood is linked to reduced rates of asthma development. The use of filtration systems in buildings and dwellings—such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration—has been shown to reduce these effects. Wearing properly fitted face masks and limiting outdoor pollution exposure on poor air quality days can also reduce the risk of pollutants on asthma development. Public health policy on pollution control and reduction of fossil fuel usage can improve air quality and limit the potential of perinatal pollutant-induced asthma: This should be seen as a major concern by public health officials and there should be urgency in adopting these public health policies. Adopting public health policies regarding air pollution, similar to the legislation in California, has the potential to improve disease outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

  • Burbank A, et al. Environmental determinants of allergy and asthma in early life. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017;140:1.
  • Gruzevia O, et al. Prenatal particulate air pollution and DNA methylation in newborns: an epigenome-wide meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2019;127:57012.
  • Lavigne E, et al. Spatiotemporal variations in ambient ultrafine particles and the incidence of childhood asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2019;199:1487.
  • Peden DB. Prenatal exposure to particulate matter air pollution: a preventable risk for childhood asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021;148:716
  • Zhang Y, et al. Early-life exposure to submicron particulate air pollution in relation to asthma development in Chinese preschool children. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021;148:771.

Filed under: Allergy/Immunology, Public Health

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